Thursday 27 July 2017

Cummins confident Sligo momentum can yield first U-21 crown

Darragh Cummins. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
Darragh Cummins. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

Declan Rooney

After turning his back on the chance of a pro rugby career, Darragh Cummins is hoping to become the first Sligo man to lift the Connacht U-21 cup this weekend.

The Calry/St Joseph's club man spent five of his teenage years playing rugby with Connacht's underage teams and the powerful inside centre was even selected to represent Ireland at youths level.

But the lure of the all-black Sligo shirt was greater than the green one, and he is confident that tomorrow's clash with Galway will prove his decision was the right one.

Already with three senior appearances for Sligo to his name, captain Cummins (20) was a huge influence on this side's semi-final victory over Roscommon in Kiltoom, and his four points from midfield helped his side to a three-point win.

But when choosing the round ball or the oval one, there was only going to be one winner.

"I was involved with Connacht from the age of 14 until 18, and I was playing with the Ireland U-18 Youths team for a year as well," said Cummins.

"But I had to make a choice at that stage between Gaelic and rugby, but the Gaelic got the nod. Rugby has all stopped now for me. Once I made my decision there was no going back.

"It's been a good decision. I've been in the senior panel for the last two years, I came on last year against Leitrim in the qualifiers. I got a bit of time against Antrim and Laois in the league this year too, but for the last two games all the U-21s have been all kept together."

Over the years Sligo have lost eight provincial finals at the grade, but there has been a thought brewing of late that this could finally be their year.

Read more: 'Being from a small county is not an excuse'

Sligo are managed by one of the finest footballers ever to come from the county, Paul Taylor. The Eastern Harps player also lost the 1994 and '95 U-21 finals with Sligo, and Cummins says he has been a huge influence.

"Paul is very good to work with. He has that raw passion for Sligo football that sometimes you don't get from other managers. He has been there and done it for the county and he is hugely respected here. I just about remember him playing, and I've slagged him off a few times about being slow when I watched him, but he was a class act.

"He always says, 'If the shot is on, take it'. That's what he always did and generally it would go over. He is very good around training and he gives you the confidence to go out and play."

Darragh's father David is heavily involved in Sligo GAA and is the current minor manager in the county. His six county titles with St Mary's and a few seasons with the Sligo seniors mean Gaelic football was in the blood, while his uncle Seamus Burns also represented the county.

Football was there since the start but, according to Darragh, the continuous improvements at underage and schools grades have helped himself and his team-mates to believe that this can be their year.

"It's not very often that we get to provincial finals, but a lot of this team played Galway in the minor final two years ago, so we have that experience to fall back on. It's not a case that we are facing the unknown.

"I went to Summerhill and we have been in a good few Connacht finals over the years. Last year's Connacht schools final was Summerhill against St Attracta's - two Sligo teams for the first time. A lot of our team is built from those two schools and when lads are playing 'A' football it really brings up the standard.

"I've heard that it's 53 years since the competition started and in a five-county province we've never even won it once. It'd be great if we could do it in the last year of it."

Irish Independent

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